Be­low wa­ter

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL -

Last week­end, a Riverview, N.B., man died when he got caught in a rip cur­rent while swim­ming off P.E.I.’s north shore. That same day, an Island mother and her son were lucky to es­cape a sim­i­lar fate in a rip­tide in the wa­ters off Sav­age Har­bour.

These dan­ger­ous ocean forces are far from un­com­mon for a coastal prov­ince like ours, and it’s time to start think­ing about bet­ter ways to pre­vent in­ci­dents like these from oc­cur­ring in the first place.

Think of it in these terms: if there were deaths ev­ery year at any in­ter­sec­tion in P.E.I., there would be public calls for in­ves­ti­ga­tions about the in­ter­sec­tion’s safety, or calls to con­struct a round­about.

We must put this same sense of ur­gency and cre­ative think­ing into how we warn peo­ple of the dan­gers of rip cur­rents.

It’s easy to say in­di­vid­ual swim­mers must be cau­tious and en­ter the wa­ter at their own risk. But it’s also far too easy to un­der­es­ti­mate the power of rip cur­rents, and the in­sid­i­ous way they can oc­cur in wa­ters that ap­pear rel­a­tively calm.

Warn­ings are printed in var­i­ous tourism pub­li­ca­tions and pub­lished on Parks Canada’s web­site. But it’s im­pos­si­ble to en­sure ev­ery Island res­i­dent lay eyes on these, let alone vis­i­tors from places where tides like these don’t ex­ist.

Both the prov­ince and Parks Canada could be more dili­gent about how they warn the public of rip cur­rents — per­haps through more ur­gent or au­to­matic alerts to lo­cal me­dia and in­creas­ing sig­nage in ar­eas that are most sus­cep­ti­ble. More ed­u­ca­tion and re­search are also key. We fea­tured a story ear­lier this week about Univer­sity of Wind­sor stu­dent Alexan­dra Sca­man, who’s con­duct­ing an on­line sur­vey about rip cur­rents in hopes of im­prov­ing safety for beach-go­ers. Re­search like this that should help ex­perts bet­ter ad­vise gov­ern­ments, life­guards and the public where and when the dan­ger ex­ists.

Tech­nol­ogy could be the great­est as­set to public safety.

Many, if not most, al­ways have smart­phones in their pock­ets. The abil­ity ex­ists to push emer­gency no­ti­fi­ca­tions to peo­ple’s phones based on their ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion. Per­haps an en­ter­pris­ing Island tech com­pany could de­velop an alert sys­tem that sends a no­ti­fi­ca­tion to some­one’s phone if they en­ter an area where rip cur­rent con­di­tions ex­ist.

Beaches are an im­por­tant part of a mul­ti­mil­lion dol­lar tourism in­dus­try in P.E.I., and it’s un­der­stand­able that there may be a re­luc­tance to scare peo­ple away from one of the most fa­mous fea­tures of our prov­ince.

We can’t be shy when peo­ple’s lives are at risk, though. Oth­er­wise, those same beaches will quickly go from fa­mous to in­fa­mous.

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